Adventure to the Far East – Part 2 Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

On Friday 10 November we had boarded our ship, the Silver Whisper, and after a very nice buffet lunch we explored the ship for a little while particularly liking the statues and the orchids which were in abundance everywhere. We were then called to Muster Stations, a legal requirement for all passengers to attend. This was well organised and, luckily for us, the station was on our deck so we didn’t have too far to go.

After a few drinks in the observation lounge – watching the biblical rain hammer down on the commercial ships around us – we retired to our cabin for a few hours before getting ready for dinner (and we may have tested the complimentary champagne while we were at it LOL). Our butler had asked us what we would like supplied in our cabin and this had miraculously appeared by the time we got back. A very good first impression of the service.

For dinner we had our first restaurant reservation at La Terrazza, a small Italian restaurant. The menu was extensive (although fixed throughout the voyage) and I enjoyed the pasta with Richard opting for the beef dish as both of us had already eaten our body weight in Thai food so far on this trip. The wine flowed, although not by the bottle on this ship (which is ultra all-inclusive), but the servers were so attentive that wasn’t a problem as we were constantly topped up – they only stopped pouring when we told them to LOL.

After dinner we headed off to the Show Lounge where local Thai musicians and dancers had come onboard to entertain. We enjoyed the show before we headed off back to the Observation Lounge where we watched the ship manoeuvre out of the very tight dock without the use of tugs (although they were in attendance). Was pretty impressive! After that we headed back to our cabin and enjoyed watching the departure from Thailand from our cabin’s balcony in our robes sipping on more wine. This seemed to be a feature most nights LOL.

Saturday was a sea day so we had a leisurely start and wandered down to the main restaurant around 9 am. We were surprised that there were very few people around – it seems that most guests had butler service breakfast in their suites. We enjoyed being served a la carte from the very extensive menu, rather than visiting the buffet, and this became our preferred breakfast option.

Afterwards we took ourselves off to the pool. We found a couple of beds and proceeded to enjoy the jacuzzi and lazing around most of the morning along with a few glasses of bubbles. We had a salad lunch poolside from the buffet and then continued to relax including a dip. We met quite a few other Commonwealth cruisers – from the UK, Canada and Australia – and it was quite the mix with some Germans, Italians and Americans making up the rest. Sadly the weather had other ideas for us and showers forced us back to our cabin for a snooze in the afternoon.

Later on we headed out to dinner at The Grill – another restaurant reservation – an outside restaurant on the pool deck. We enjoyed our dinner here and were surprised that, already, the waiter had worked out our wine preference and a bottle was on hand nearby to keep us topped up continuously. Very dangerous LOL. This is a casual dress restaurant but it was formal night everywhere else on the ship so we dressed up accordingly. In fact, the ‘casual’ dress still required men to wear a shirt and jacket but no tie – and most women were pretty ‘dressy’ most nights. No jeans after 6pm on board either. All very grown up!

After dinner we headed to the Show Lounge and watched an Australian comedian. He was really funny and we enjoyed his humour. After the show we headed to the lounge and listened to the DJ and joined in with the dancing. Was a fun night – eventually we retired to our cabin for more pontoonies on the balcony before turning in.

Sunday was a bit miserable so I took the opportunity to do some laundry (there is one on every other floor and are all complimentary). Back to the cabin we hung everything up and headed to the Italian restaurant which was the venue for the main buffet lunch and enjoyed the variety of dishes on offer.

In the afternoon we hung out by the pool and chatted to other cruisers enjoying the warmth if not the sun. Later on we got ourselves cleaned up and headed to the main restaurant for dinner. The menu was huge and you can have as much as you want in any order – literally! Two pages of staple items stayed the same throughout the voyage but the rest changed every three days – so no worries about getting bored. Oh yes and caviar was available at any time on demand…..

After dinner, and a few more drinks in the bar, we headed back to our cabin as the weather was picking up. We had 35 knots and big seas – so we had a bit of a stormy night shift on the balcony – was fantastic!

Monday morning we pulled into Ho Chi Minh City having traversed the river and pulled up around 6am. During the night I went to the loo to find our bathroom flooded – oh dear – so as we were going out very early for our first shore excursion we reported the problem. We just dumped all the towels on the floor to soak up the water in the meantime to avoid it spilling over onto the carpet.

For the first time we had breakfast in the buffet but the egg service was very slow and it was pretty busy as a lot of people were getting ready to go on their first shore excursion. We had to wait for eggs and tea – this ship doesn’t have tea / coffee stations so you have to wait for the servers to bring you pots etc. You don’t even make your own toast! Not quite the buffet experience we are used to LOL. Anyway, breakfast over, we headed down to reception to collect our Vietnamese landing cards and copies of our passports – they hold the originals for the duration of the cruise – to enable us to go ashore for our first excursion. This ship really is all-inclusive and that includes the excursions…not something we are used to…but it was nice to have it all organised for us.

Being a small ship I had visions of small numbers on this first tour but we were on a coach with about 24 other people – including Mo and Jo, two Canadian girlfriends who had come on this cruise whilst their husbands had gone hunting. Craig and Leanne (Australians we had met the previous day) were on this trip too. So all very social and jolly. This trip was the Saigon Street Food Experience and the first stop was the food market. This was interesting with a real diversity in the goods on offer – check out some of the fish offerings! Apparently there is no tax if you buy in the market but there is in the shops so people prefer the market for meat, fish and vegetables. But for everything else they buy it all online LOL.

We then headed to the Street Food market and enjoyed tasting some of the items there before being taken to a very nice restaurant for lunch. OMG they just didn’t stop feeding us. It was all delicious but way way too much… And all this food / drinks were free of charge and included in the excursion which was pretty impressive.

After lunch we boarded our coach back to the ship and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing by the pool as the sun had come out. Many of the cruisers stayed in the City and came back on the shuttle buses later but we had had enough so decided to make the most of the pool area. Was lovely, especially sipping bubbles whilst sat in the jacuzzi.

We headed back to our room and the leak had been fixed – and we were visited by an endless stream of officers to check we were happy with the service – yep no problems. The funniest thing was that Richard had left his best shoes by the side of the bed rather than putting them away in the dressing room – and has a result they had been polished for him whilst we had been out. Seriously LOL.

After relaxing for a while we couldn’t be bothered to go out again – especially as we weren’t really hungry – so we ordered room service. At this point the butler turned up and brought us a cheese board and champagne to enjoy in our room whilst we waited for dinner. So we sat on the balcony and enjoyed that. Then dinner was served by our butler who had set up our coffee table with a ‘topper’ and white linen – the works. OMG how amazing. Didn’t think I would enjoy being pampered like this but I could certainly get used to it. Richard tried to help the small Indian female butler but she shrugged him off – the table top was very heavy – so he eventually had to give in and let her do her job….. She was very happy with us – apparently because we used the magic words ‘please and thank you’. That made me sad that there would be people who wouldn’t even have the decency to be polite to her.

The ship stayed overnight in Ho Chi Minh city again – and we had another excursion the following day to the Mekong Delta. So Tuesday morning we had another buffet breakfast in prepration for an early start. At 8am we were off the ship and meeting our guide. This time it was in small minibuses and there were only eight of us on this tour. There were multiple other minibuses following a similar itinerary but we were kept apart and only bumped into familiar faces at the ‘rest stops’ where we got to use Western toilets LOL.

Anyway we had about two hours on the bus heading towards the Mekong Delta and it was interesting coming away from the sky-rise prosperous city into the country where the more familiar paddy fields came into view. Our guide was amazing and actually came from the farming area so gave us a real insight into their culture.

Arriving at the Delta we boarded a private boat just for our tour. Again there were other boats but they were all following slightly different itineraries so we would not invade any particular venue. We experienced lots of things getting on and off this boat during the day. This was precarious in places climbing onto the steps built into the river bank which were steep and without hand rails. I was quite cautious – you know my history LOL – and Richard made sure I was safe at all times. He was very attentive and I was grateful for his concern.

We first ended up at a honey manufacturer and, of course, Richard had to hold the bees! No way I was doing that….I just purchased some Royal Honey instead LOL. We enjoyed tasting the different products – and rubbing them into our skin – along with a delicious green tea.

Moving on we next went to a Snakewine producer and, of course, Richard had to try that too. I don’t know how his stomach manages to cope with the stuff he is willing to try on these trips LOL.

This was also an artisan workshop and we greatly admired some of the mother of pearl inlaid products they produced here plus the skill involved in using egg shells to make artworks. Just amazing.

Next stop was seeing how rice paper – for spring roll wrappers – was made. Very interesting. Then it was rice sweets, popped rice (think rice cakes) and popped noodles (think noodle cakes). Really interesting and informative. And we enjoyed tasting all of it LOL.

Then it was an artisan workshop primarily dealing in paintings and ceramics. Absolutely beautiful stuff. Then finally we went to an old house and our guide explained about the placings of the photographs – linked to status – and the significance of the shrines.

Afterwards we headed back down the river to a fantastic restaurant (which was part of a tourist resort) and had the most amazing lunch. Lots and lots of food, again, and all of it very good although I have to admit to passing up on the ‘special’ river fish.

After a leisurely late lunch we then headed back in our minibuses towards Ho Chi Minh. The traffic built and we got used to weaving in and out of all the motorcyclists. They carry everything on them, from fridges, to family groups, to pets, in fact just about anything you could think of. We even saw a washing machine going along…. There are special motorcycle lanes and it was scary! Can’t imagine how there aren’t more accidents – they buzz around inside and outside of each other with no signals or even brake lights. Just phenomenal to witness! The methodology for crossing the road in Vietnam is to walk straight and don’t make eye contact with them – they will go round you, but if you make eye-contact then it becomes a challenge to see who will wimp out first. I can guarantee that it will be you LOL.

Back on board, after a long day, I was struggling a bit after all the climbing up combined with the most uncomfortable minibus seats because they are built for small Asian people not Westerners LOL. Anyway, small price to pay for such an amazing experience! So I rested up for a while and then we got ready for dinner in the main restaurant which was just fantastic. Was fabulous along with great service and an abundance of our favourite wine LOL.

After dinner we headed back and had a pontoonie on the balcony before calling it a day watching the brightly lit dinner boats plying their routes up and down the river. Absolutely spectacular!

Wednesday morning we were ashore for the 8am excursion start. This was billed as the Saigon Discovery and we did enjoy the sights such as the historic French buildings, the Post Office, a Buddhist temple, the Opera House, and the splendid Hotel Rex rooftop bar. So here are a few photos of the day to whet your appetite. Thankfully this was on a full-sized coach so no problems with the seat sizes that day LOL.

Sadly it was over all too soon and we were heading back to the ship to prepare for an afternoon departure from the port. But not before we enjoyed more motorcycle antics which just made us laugh on our journey around the city. Ho Chi Minh city blew us away – wasn’t sure what we were expecting – but certainly not a buzzing metropolis with high rises (including one with a helipad) and a lively night scene…. It had been a real eye opener and a fantastic introduction to Vietnam.

Back on board we sat in the Panorama Lounge and enjoyed a sail away drink as we headed back out to sea. We then had another meal in La Terrazza before returning to the lounge and joined the sail away party and even indulged in a bit of dancing to the resident DJ. At this point we had a warning from the captain that we were going to be heading into a storm and to hold on tight….oh goody, looks like it might be fun! As we left the shelter of the river and turned left towards Da Nang the seas picked up and got quite lumpy. This was already proving to be a challenge to some of the other guests so the party ended quite quickly after and we headed to our balcony to enjoy the sea (and the rain)…

And that’s the end of Part 2 of our Far East Adventure. Come back soon for the next instalment.

Bye for now.